#147 – Dick Bernard: Avatar

UPDATE January 12, 2010: I have been most intrigued by the assorted interpretations, on all “sides”, about the real meaning of most everything about Avatar. About all I can say is that it serves a useful function in causing thought and (hopefully) conversation. Now, if the assorted “sides” could dialogue with each other about the diverse meanings of the film, now, that would be something. It is now a blockbuster status film. I think it deserves its status. And it is an opening for serious conversation about, particularly, American society and its relationship to the rest of the planet.
A few day ago I made reference to the new film Avatar in this blog.
At the time, I had not seen the film. I went yesterday. I would highly recommend the film as food for thought and for lots of reflective discussion for anyone with even the slightest interest in or concern about the past, present and future of humanity and the planet in general.
Avatar is a high-tech 3D film set far in the future on a planet populated by humanoids similar, I would say, to the indigenous peoples who populated this country and hemisphere 500 years ago, pre-Columbus.
The planet has been targeted for exploitation of an essential new element by a force from the late, great planet earth (to borrow somebodies phrase from long ago.
The earthlings do not, shall we say, represent us as we would like to be seen…on the other hand, they represent us pretty accurately…at least the exploiters who have moved from one objective to the next over the centuries who, in turn, have enlisted our support for things that lay waste to a decent, balanced relationship between the earth and all of its creatures, only one species of which happens to be human.
As we watch the “transformer generation” in Avatar, we are watching ourselves, today, and in especially the last 150 years or so in the U.S., far longer in exploited places like Haiti, where European exploitation began with Columbus over 500 years ago. It is not a pretty sight.
On the other hand, those who we dismiss as Third World, presumably worth less than ourselves, are portrayed well, particularly as their relationship to the earth and each other is concerned. One is reminded of the intimate relationship between the Native Americans and their environment in the time before the introduction of the things that have brought us domination and prosperity.
One can wonder who will get the last laugh as humanity lurches down the road to some final probably destructive destination, perhaps sooner than we like to imagine. Perhaps Jesus’ Beatitudes, the first of which is “Blessed are the Meek” (defined in my grandmothers Bible as the “poor”) are the ultimate inheritors of heaven, to contrast with the present hell on earth visited on so many of them.
For the rich among us, which is most Americans, even those of us who are fairly poor, perhaps we’ve got it as good as it’s going to get…in the end we may trade places with those we now dominate. Nobody knows, just a thought….
Avatar is a long film, nearly three hours, but it is gripping. I found myself wanting popcorn, but not wanting to leave the theatre should I miss something. Those with me in the theatre were equally glued to their seats. Avatar is certainly not an escapist film.
People watching this film can come to their own conclusions. It will be difficult, however, to come to the conclusion that the reality of our lives will serve future generations well.
I recommend this film.

#52 – Dick Bernard/Carol Ashley: Views on Economic Stimulus

UPDATE:  Carol Ashley joined this conversation July 11 (her substantial contribution follows the initial post.)  This will be held open till July 21, 2009. 
Dick Bernard: This is the first blog post I have specifically posted in Draft form.  I solicit specific, brief,  comments to my regular e-mail address.  When this paragraph is removed, the Draft will be in more or less final form.
Among the kettle-full of national and international issues roiling about this past week, discussion was stirring about the Stimulus.  The usual suspects were saying the usual things about whether Round One was working or not, and whether or how a Round Two should be.  Apparently the President is not in favor of a Round Two, at least not at this time.
All I can say is that I am glad I am not having to make these decisions.
It appears that, after the major crisis of 2008, that ordinary Americans are both saving more and spending less.  Fewer people are earning any income, and those who are earning an income are not making as much as they were before.  Times are tight.  It doesn’t take a lot of looking to see that we’re not as flush as we were.  Some think we’ll never recover; that the worst is ahead of us.  Some would welcome such a failure, for differing reasons.  Opinions are a dime a dozen.
Lately I have been wondering if, perhaps, we Americans are, right now, our own worst enemies.  We are a nation whose prosperity was built on consumption.  We can argue whether that is good or bad, but that is how capitalism thrived.  And we are a capitalist society.
If my observation is a bit correct, rather than waiting for the government to print more money that we don’t have, perhaps a reasonable solution to propose is that we loosen our own individual pursestrings, and spend a little more of what we have, including our savings, to help stimulate the economy, particularly for those who really need the money the most.  I’m not advocating randomly throwing money on the street, but finding ways to help people who will truly put the money in circulation, and help the economy recover.
We are not, even now, an impoverished nation: A single dollar per person would generate $300,000,000 in circulation; a little over $3 per person would generate one billion.  Before long, there would be serious additional money in circulation.  And if we did the seeding reasonably carefully, it would be spent to help others who need it.  I once heard that a dollar spent multiplies by seven times if in circulation.  $1=$7.  It really isn’t funny math.  Some folks would make the multiplier a different number than 7, but economists would agree that there is a multiplying effect when money is actually in circulation.
Of course, my idea of spending to prosperity isn’t new.  I remember well the proposition of George W. Bush adminstration after 9-11: we Americans were admonished to go shopping.
The difference I see between his proposition, then, and mine, now, is a pretty stark one: were we to dig deep enough, the motivation for his proposal was to maintain and even build profits for business, using money we didn’t have (credit) to do that.  We have seen, and we are experiencing directly,  the results of that foolhardy policy.
In my case, I am proposing using money that is actually in existence to help people with real needs either stay on their feet, or get back on their feet.
Saving is great: I’m all for it.  Spending is okay, too.  I think we can help build our own recovery…and change the direction of our nation in the process.
Your thoughts?
Carol Ashley: I like your idea, but not because I think it would stimulate the economy. Helping others out with whatever we have that’s extra is a good idea because it is compassionate and there are so many people in need. In terms of the economy, I think we as Americans need to rethink how we live…as many are. We need to focus on what we need and not on what we want. We need to think about a more equitable society. The talk of stimulus is just a way of thinking in the same old ways that have, in part, brought us to this impasse. (And I do think it is an impasse.)
We need to create jobs that focus on real needs. Renewable energy is a good start because we need at least some energy, even if we all devote ourselves to conservation of energy. I expect that large companies will be the ones to do this because that is how our society is and larger companies are the only ones who could afford to do it. That is sad because we need to focus on smaller businesses that won’t be too big to fail.
There are lots of other things that we could do that are unrealistic to suggest because they just won’t happen because our country is too split and too selfish.
And now, as an aside I turn to something I’ve been hit with recently.
I confess that I am a Baby Boomer. I don’t do that easily. You see, I’ve always had the Boomers connected in my mind with the 60’s social justice issues. That’s in spite of stories my nephew has told me, in spite of what I’ve seen and heard from others of my generation, in spite of hearing us referred to as the Me Generation.
It wasn’t until I read more of The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe that I realized just how selfish my generation is. Of course there are exceptions. But I think my generation has had a lot to do with the current attitudes and the resultant crisis we are in. All the way from the good values of the 60’s to this! Of course, I now realize that many young people in the 60’s were in just for the ride, the excitement, the rebellion against authority. Perhaps they each had good reason and good cause. Perhaps most came to accept the broader values that came to the front at that time. But after the riots, after the end of the Vietnam war, and after a bit more equality for women, the Boomers really turned and stayed inward.
The focus turned to self-actualization, personal growth. I saw in the Charismatic movement of the 60’s and 70’s the focus on personal “spiritual growth.” The message was that if they saw a problem in your life, the answer was that you either didn’t have enough faith or the devil was in your life. If you were poor, sick or otherwise suffering, it was your fault. I saw the same thing from the New Age Movement. Many of the New Agers I have met through the years had originally turned from traditional churches to the Charismatic Movement and then became New Agers. The common theme I heard was that Christians were too judgmental, but I heard the very same judgment from them. If you were poor, sick or otherwise suffering it was your karma, you had not grown beyond that. It was your fault.
The one thing that bothered me as I followed that Boomer movement was the lack of compassion, the lack of any sense that we lived in a society that did have effects on people and a lack of any regard for science.
I do think a distrust of authority wasn’t all bad. I don’t think self-actualization is all bad. But anything can be taken to an extreme. It’s not good to throw out the baby with the bathwater, pardon the old cliché.
And now back to your suggestion. I think it is a good one, again not because of a need to stimulate the economy, but to take things into our hands to create a better society where we can help others out. I would like to see us use extra money we may have to start cooperative businesses that provide needs as well as provide jobs for people who have lost theirs. I think this would need to be done community by community.
What do you think?

#34 – Bruce Fisher, Carol Ashley: The Conversation about Climate Change

A reader comment follows this post.
Note from Moderator: On the local evening news on June 1, the weatherman noted that May, 2009, was one of the driest on record, exceeded only by May, 1934, a year of great drought.  Is May, 2009, just an unusual month of weather, or a looming manifestation of serious climate change problems to come?  Are those concerned about climate change simply worry-warts, or are those unconcerned denying an unpleasant reality?  Do we live in the moment, or act for the long term?
In early April, I publicized a website that features a 20+ section “Crash Course” to help understand the possibilities of the future, and by understanding help deal with those possibilities.  The website is http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse for those interested.  In my opinion it’s well worth the three hours it takes to view the sections. 
Carol Ashley took the time to view the series, and commented on it in #19 on this blog, May 11, 2009.
Bruce Fisher also took the time and on May 25 posted the following, to which Carol filed her own response.
Bruce Fisher: I’ve been thinking about the “Crash Course” and the significance of its concepts for our environment and economy.  A few days ago, [an] article by George Lakoff appeared in the Huffington Post and it struck me that framing is understanding and the environment and economy need to be framed together (the [political] right has done this for years with the emphasis on the environment as material resource for the economy).  As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff knows this best.  For those who have taken the “Crash Course”, [the Lakoff commentary at http://tinyurl.com/08pwon] is an especially relevant article.  [ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/why-environmental-underst_b_205477.html ]
Carol Ashley:  From Lakoff’s article “…one of the things Westen and Lake get right is in an incomprehensible diagram on the back page: an explanation of why discussions of climate fail.  It is hidden in a discussion of “associations,” an inadequate way of discussing the public’s frame-based logic.  Climate and weather are usually understood as beyond immediate causation, something you are subject to, but can’t just go out and change right away.  Climate is not directly and causally connected to the values that underlie our concerns about our planet’s future: empathy, responsibility, freedom, and our ability to thrive.  They try to say that in the diagram, but the arrows and lines don’t communicate it.”
What I see in my rural area is that people are prone to see the weather as a daily event: at the most, a weekly or seasonally based phenomena.  It’s kind of the same problem in government…no long range vision.  So people are prone not to see the effects of short term actions, not to see the actuality of broader patterns and rather base assumptions on climate on a cooler than usual spring season, for example.
Rural people and those in small towns often value community and their particular environment.  (Their community tends to be very small comprising only their extended family, church and friends.)  They don’t value getting rich.  They also don’t trust government and haven’t for years. They vote and expect who they voted for to do the work of politics.  They tend not to stay informed.  They don’t have the time and the access to information.  And their lives are often a struggle to survive.  They, therefore, don’t make policy so these observations may not apply to others, but I think some applies to just being human and there are plenty of poor people in cities who for racial reasons are also mistrustful of others and rely on their communities.
There is also an issue of “delayed gratification” here, I think.  That ability to do what needs to be done, sacrificing what one wants for what one will have in the future and even forgoing what one wants for the sake of one’s children and grandchildren.  It’s easier to do that for one’s own children than to consider the world’s children.  I think, in order for delayed gratification to be possible for an individual, one has to have some basic needs met, like food, shelter and some measure of health.  Long-term poverty undermines that.
The reason this may be important is that those on the extreme right are often rural and poor.  People in cities who live in poverty are often focused on basic needs, too, and need framing that applies to them more immediately and practically.  The difference between the rural and city poor, I think, is the very fierce independence of the rural and their valuing of that independence and the rural environment over the desire for wealth.  Either way, the best way to reach these people is through major media and through churches.  (Even then they tend to be pretty independent minded and hold to what they have always believed.)  The framing has to reach them that way.  So the first step is back to square one, in my opinion.  Get corporations out of government and create an avenue for non-profit media.  Is that even possible any more?  Like most rural people, I doubt it.  The super rich are in control and will be.  Haven’t they always been?  Even in the beginnings of our country?
I suppose my pessimism comes partly from being rural and poor.  I have little ability to be an activist.  The poor and rural always seem to be at the mercy of others.
Note from Moderator: Essays from others on this topic are solicited.  Watch future entries.

#19 – Carol Ashley: Chris Martenson's "Crash Course"

Dick Bernard: On April 7, my friend John sent me an e-mail, as follows: “My son Joel sent this to me. It is fascinating and disturbing. http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse/ You should check out this website and his seminar (several youtube videos embedded on the site). It touches on and brings together the topics of finance, national debt, inflation, peak oil, etc. It is in 20+ parts and takes over 3 hours, but it’s very worth it.”
Carol, whose comments follow, also watched the entire series, as have I and several others I know of. Carol lives in rural Minnesota near a town of perhaps 4000 residents. Following her comments, I add a few of mine. She and I wrote completely independent of each other: we didn’t know what the other had to say. Suffice to say, we think the series is worth your time. You can’t reach a conclusion about it without actually watching it all. Consider taking the time.
Carol Ashley:
No one wants to hear bad news. We had eight years of hearing more and more bad news. I often thought it couldn’t get worse, but it did. Now we just want to hope again. So Chris Mortensen’s Crash Course isn’t for the faint of heart.
When the housing bubble burst, you probably couldn’t help thinking of
the Great Depression. Christian’s of some persuasions were (and are) convinced that the end of the world is imminent. I, too, still think the
financial mess we are in is just the beginning of hard times. There are
a lot more forces coming together that make this a unique crisis and not nearly just a matter of a depression/recession. Martenson’s Crash Course outlines several reasons why, though he doesn’t include global climate change. Martenson makes sense of why by explaining the exponential factor and then showing how it works in various areas. His explanations are easy to understand and very basic. One of the things I’ve been most disgusted with in the constant news about the financial mess is that it seems to relate mostly to people who make a lot of money. Martenson is more about the very roots of economics, in the opinion of people who live much farther down the economic ladder.
Although Martenson gives a little hope at the end in thinking that our
quality of life could improve, he does not see the catastrophic
consequences for those who cannot save or plan for the coming crisis. So do I think there is no hope? I really have very little hope that people will see the light, or that they will work together, or that anything substantial will be done soon enough. I hope to be proven wrong.
America has been so focused on individualism (capitalism is good at
fostering the “pull yourself up by your bootstrap mentality) that I
wonder if people can work together. There are two things I see in my
community. One is that people despise those who can’t “make
it” even though they are among them in the broader sense of who has
wealth. They also despise the government and see no hope coming from that direction. On the other hand though, they also do think there is a lack of focus on community and some are actively working to build local resources in the form of promoting the local food movement.
One other thing I’d like to mention is that Martenson doesn’t bring in
politics per se. He appears to be on the right side of the political
divide. The coming economic disaster is one area where I see some
agreement in what some on the right and the left fear. Unfortunately,
without any sane discussion about the causes, one cannot sanely address solutions.
Martenson includes a self-assessment elsewhere on his website. One thing that struck me was in his section about safety. He asks if one has guns, knows how to use them and has addressed other safety issues, like the development of community with those who live nearby. Somehow, though I’ve had the same thoughts and I’ve heard others on the left express similar thoughts, it struck me as more of a right-wing manner of facing the issue. It is an expression of the extreme individualism in this country…the tendency to focus on taking care of self through one’s own means rather than coming together as a community to address concerns through sane government.
Personally, I think everyone in the country should listen to Martenson’s Crash Course.
Dick Bernard observations made before reading Carol’s: The “3 hours” part was a bit daunting, but I took on the task, initially watching the first 3 or 4 segments, then ultimately the rest. It was helpful that a coffee-time friend of mine, Steve, who I told about the course, actually watched the whole thing before I did, and was glad he did. Steve is a retired manager for a major corporation and not prone to take leaps based on limited or no data. I trusted his judgment. I have only a vague notion of Steve’s political orientation: we’re simply friends sharing a space for an hour or so each morning.
The Crash Course didn’t provide me with any new or unusual information, but I found it very useful. It is in easily digestable “bites”, and can be watched all at once, or over time. Martenson covers the bases of the present and possible future consequences, and does it in a non-partisan way. He teaches well. He presents information he thinks is important. The conclusions are left to the viewer.
No one knows for certain exactly what will happen in the future. But Martenson makes a persuasive case that the next 20 years will not resemble the past 20, and that the longer term is not going to be a time where the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to over the last 20 years will return. There are too many “exponential curves” facing us, in population, energy use, etc., and if we factor in things like peak oil, climate change, global economic instability and such, and one is foolish to pretend that life can go on without very substantial changes in how we choose to live.
Succinctly, we all lived in the golden years. We, particularly those who come after us, are going to pay for our excess, and more than just in dollars.
Every day I see little ones, those from tiny newborns to teenager, and when I think of the future, I think about what’s ahead for them. My Dad lived about 20 years beyond my present age, so I might be around to see if Martenson’s predictions about the last 20 years are correct. But the present-day youngsters will be faced head-on with what we left behind, and they’ll just be in early adulthood when that 20 years comes.
I highly recommend watching the videos.
Final Notes from Dick after reading Carol’s: I was struck by how often Carol used the words “individualism” and “community” and their near relatives, like “together” or “local” to describe present and coming relationships in our own society. The community vs individual polarity is in itself a very complex yet very important topic for someone interested in writing about it.
Update June 3, 2009:  Note #34 published this date for more on this topic.